How to sew faster pt.2

Based on comments to yesterday’s entry, people agree that any short cuts in the front end of the process are what add time to the fun part, presumably sewing (but some don’t like that either). That’s worth thinking about, what don’t you like? Why? You think about that while I continue to ramble.

People dislike impediments, whatever those are. If you dislike cutting, it’s probably because you don’t have the space to cut or you don’t have the best tools (small table, no mat, chink in your rotary blade etc). Another example, I don’t like making buttonholes because I don’t have a buttonhole machine. All my jackets have zippers, snaps or conchos. If you think about it some more, the problem isn’t that work arounds take time, it’s that you dislike the barriers so much you delay doing it. How many of you haven’t started new projects or completed old ones because you have to clear a space or suspect you won’t be able to find whatever tools or notions you need? If you are the singular paragon of virtue out there, can it. None of the rest of us want to eat lunch at your table.

This is a good time to return to the TWI pt.2 post and the training manuals (pdf) used in factories across the US during WW2. According to the manual:

The problem is either MECHANICAL or PEOPLE or BOTH. All problems involve people directly or indirectly. Mechanical problems relat[e] to:

  • Methods
  • Layout
  • Tools
  • Equipment
  • Materials
  • Machines

I’ll leave the people part of the citation for next time, mechanical problems are enough to deal with today. Let’s deal with each singularly.

Methods: This one is tricky. There are several kinds of methods barriers (none of what I’m writing is in the manual, at least not as far as I’ve read). These can be sorted by:

  1. established work protocols dictated by the design or limitations of a machine
  2. limitations of your working area (too small table etc)
  3. internal barriers, meaning one is locked into thinking something has to be done a certain way.

Layout: Layout seems related to obvious organization problems but not always. Often, the organization of your working area is related to the manner in which you’ve organized the work process. A good example is how many plants organize the flow of material coming in. There’s a shipping dock, from there fabric traipses to an inventory holding area where goods are entered and yardage inspected and cut for testing. The traffic in the shipping area can be a mess with product also leaving for retail stores. Fabric is often kept in the middle of things where pilferage can be controlled (remember, it’s not only business owners who are evil). The fabric then has to go back out to the cutting area, after which it travels back through the inventory area to get to the sewing lines. Fabric doesn’t travel nearly so far as when it enters the factory doors. Layout can be a pill which is why you should think a lot about a location to build, buy or lease.

The other way in which you can impose unnecessary impediments is according to the process of work completion as you’ve defined it. This is also related to methods. All of these concepts are connected.

Tools, Equipment and Machines: We can put these in one category. Most everyone has a wish list of toys to make their life easier. The biggest problem with this category is knowing what exists, where and how to acquire it, how to learn to operate it, and how to maintain and repair it. For small businesses, this isn’t so easy but it’s easier if you’re located in a garment industry area. Often, the problem isn’t so much that you can’t afford sexy new machines, it’s that you can’t repair or maintain them. I tend to limit my purchases to machines that are fairly easy to operate and repair (I’m the mechanic). I also select machines for which parts are readily purchased. I do live near a garment center but it is hassle and a lost day’s work to take a machine in for repair were it needed. It is in part for this reason I’m slowly buying newer equipment.

Lastly is Materials. If your enterprise is just starting, you probably haven’t had enough experience yet to know the limitations materials can impose. This is yet another reason you should be designing with continuity in mind. Ideally, your materials will be similar enough in weight and handling that you can use the same machines to sew without having to switch threads or adjust thread tensioning. Adjusting thread tension on an industrial can be a whole other ball game. If you’re using a broad range of materials, you will need more machines than if you just used one kind. If you’re using contractors, you may need more than one.

Not least of all is muscle memory and handling experience. My suggestion to learning to sew different materials is to batch your learning experience. If you want to work with bias, don’t make one bias dress, do a whole series of them. It’s only after the tenth one that the motions become second nature. In sum, speed relies on agility that is developed through practice.

How to sew faster pt.1
How to sew faster pt.2
How to sew faster pt.2b
How to sew faster pt.3
How to sew faster pt.4

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